Today in Black History, 11/24/2015 | Theodore Shaw "Teddy" Wilson - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 11/24/2015 | Theodore Shaw "Teddy" Wilson

November 24, 1912 Theodore Shaw "Teddy" Wilson, hall of fame jazz pianist, was born in Austin, Texas but raised in Tuskegee, Alabama. Wilson studied piano and violin at Tuskegee Institute. He joined the Benny Goodman Trio in 1935, the first Black musician to perform in public with a previously all-White group. He recorded 50 hit records with various singers, including Lena Horne and Billie Holliday. His albums include "I Got Rhythm" (1956), "Pres and Teddy" (1956), and "With Billie in Mind" (1972). Wilson was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows upon jazz artists, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1986. Wilson died July 31, 1986. He was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1987 and is considered one of the most influential jazz pianist of his time. 

November 24, 1868 Scott Joplin, hall of fame composer and pianist, was born near Texarkana, Texas. Joplin was taught music theory, keyboard technique, and an appreciation of folk and opera music at eleven. As an adult, he also studied at George R. Smith College, a historically Black college in Missouri. He achieved fame for his unique ragtime compositions and was known as the "King of Ragtime." Over his career, Joplin wrote 44 ragtime pieces, a ragtime ballet, and two operas. One of his first pieces, "Maple Leaf Rag," was ragtime's first and most influential hit and sold over one million copies of sheet music. Joplin died April 1, 1917 but his music returned to popularity with the 1970 release of "Scott Joplin Piano Rags," which sold over a million albums, and the 1973 movie "The Sting" which featured several of his compositions and won the Academy Award for Best Music. Joplin was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and was awarded a Special Citation by the Pulitzer Prize Board in 1976. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1983. Several books have been published about Joplin, including "King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era" (1996) and "Dancing to a Black Man's Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin" (2004). The biographical film, "Scott Joplin," was released in 1977. 

November 24, 1870 Robert Sengstacke Abbott, lawyer and newspaper publisher, was born in Frederica, St. Simons Island, Georgia. Abbott studied the printing trade at Hampton Institute from 1892 to 1896 and earned his law degree from Kent College of Law in 1898. However, due to racial prejudice he was unable to practice despite attempts to establish law offices in Gary, Indiana, Topeka, Kansas, and Chicago, Illinois. Abbott founded The Chicago Defender May 5, 1905. The slogan of the newspaper was "American race prejudice must be destroyed." The paper encouraged African Americans to migrate north for a better life and to fight for an even better lifestyle once they got there. The Defender had a circulation of more than 200,000 by the early 1920s and was known as "America's Black Newspaper." It also made Abbott one of the first self-made African American millionaires. He co-founded the Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic in Chicago in 1929. Abbott died February 29, 1940. His biography, "The Lonely Warrior: The Life and Times of Robert S. Abbott," was published in 1955. His home in Chicago, the Robert S. Abbott House, was designated a National Historic Landmark December 8, 1976. 

November 24, 1892 Charles Henry Langston, abolitionist and political activist, died. Langston was born August 31, 1817 in Louisa County, Virginia. He and his brother enrolled in the preparatory school at Oberlin College in 1835, the first Black students to be admitted. After graduating, Langston became involved in Black political affairs in Ohio. He was one of a group of men in 1858 who freed John Price who had escaped slavery and was captured by United States Marshals under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. This incident is known as the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue. Langston and a White man were tried and convicted for their part in the rescue. Langston moved to Leavenworth, Kansas in 1862 and established a school for Black people who had escaped slavery and was appointed general superintendent for refugees and freedmen for the Freedmen's Bureau of Kansas in 1865. Langston was appointed president of Quindaro Freedman's School (later Western University) in 1872, the earliest college for Black people west of the Mississippi River. Langston also served as associate editor of the Historic Times, a local newspaper that advocated for equal rights and justice for Black people. 

November 24, 1914 Bessie Virginia Blount, physical therapist, forensic scientist and inventor, was born in Hickory, Virginia. Blount moved to New Jersey to study to be a physical therapist. During World War II and the Korean War, she volunteered to work with limbless and paralyzed veterans. Blount received patent number 2,550,554 for a portable receptacle support April 24, 1951. Her invention was worn around the neck and supported by the chest and allowed persons who had temporarily or permanently lost the use of their arms or hands to drink fluids from cups or bowls supported by the device. Because the United States government was not interested in the device, she sold the rights to France. Blount invented a number of other devices but did not patent them. Blount went into law enforcement as a forensic scientist in 1969, becoming chief examiner of the Portsmouth, Virginia police department in the early 1970s. She was the first American woman accepted for advanced studies in the Document Division of the Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory of Scotland Yard in 1977. After that, she stated her own private business as a forensic science consultant, verifying the authenticity of older documents. Blount died December 30, 2009. 

November 24, 1916 Frankie Muse Freeman, hall of fame civil rights attorney, was born Marie Frankie Muse in Danville, Virginia. Freeman earned her undergraduate degree from Hampton Institute in 1936 and her law degree from Howard University Law School in 1947. She began her work in civil rights when she became legal counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People legal team that filed suit against the St. Louis Board of Education in 1949. Freeman was the lead attorney in the 1954 NAACP case Davis et al. v. the St. Louis Housing Authority which ended legal racial discrimination in public housing within the city. She served as the staff attorney for the St. Louis Land Clearance and Housing Authority from 1956 to 1970. She was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the United States Commission on Civil Rights in 1964, the first African American female to serve on the commission. She served on the commission until 1979. Freeman was one of 16 former high-ranking federal officials who formed the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, a group committed to ending racial discrimination and devising remedies that would counteract its harmful effects, in 1982. Freeman is a trustee emeritus of the board of Howard University, past chair of the board of the National Council on Aging, and past national president of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She was inducted into the National Bar Association Hall of Fame in 1990, the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in 2007, and the 2011 recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Freeman has received honorary doctorate degrees from several institutions, including Hampton University, Saint Louis University, and Howard University. Her memoir, "A Song of Faith and Hope: The Life of Frankie Muse Freeman," was published in 2003. 

November 24, 1920 Percy Ellis Sutton, lawyer, civil rights activist and political and business leader, was born in San Antonio, Texas. Sutton served as an intelligence officer with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. He attended Prairie View A&M University, Tuskegee Institute, and Hampton Institute before earning his law degree from Brooklyn Law School in 1950. Sutton represented Malcolm X until his death in 1965 and Betty Shabazz until her death in 1997. He served in the New York State Assembly from 1964 to 1966 and was instrumental in getting funding to establish the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. He served as Manhattan borough president from 1966 to 1977. Sutton co-founded the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation in 1971 and it purchased New York City's first African American owned radio station. Sutton served as president of the corporation from 1972 to 1991. He purchased and initiated the revitalization of the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 1980 and began producing the television show, "Showtime at the Apollo" in 1987. He was awarded the 1987 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. Sutton died December 26, 2009. 

November 24, 1926 James W. Holley, III, the first African American mayor of Portsmouth, Virginia, was born in Portsmouth. After graduating from high school in 1944, Holley served in the United States Army during World War II. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from West Virginia State College (now University) in 1949 and graduated from the Howard University School of Dentistry in 1955. Holley played an integral role in the desegregation of Portsmouth, winning court decisions that integrated the city's libraries, hospitals, restaurants, and golf courses. He served on the Portsmouth City Council, the first African American on the council, from 1968 to 1984. He was elected Mayor of Portsmouth in 1984 but was recalled in 1987. He was re-elected mayor in 1996 but again recalled in 2010. Holley died October 5, 2012. 

November 24, 1929 John Henry Johnson, hall of fame football player, was born in Waterproof, Louisiana. Johnson played college football at Saint Mary's College of California and then at Arizona State University. He was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1953 National Football League Draft. Over his 13 season professional career, Johnson was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and became the first NFL player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season in 1962. Johnson retired in 1966 and at that time was the fourth leading career rusher in NFL history. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987. Johnson died June 3, 2011. John Henry Johnson Park in Pittsburg, California is named in his honor. 

November 24, 1938 Oscar Palmer Robertson, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Charlotte, Tennessee. During his college career at the University of Cincinnati, Robertson won the national scoring title, was named All-American three times, and was chosen College Player of the Year two times. He was also co-captain of the men's basketball team that won the Gold medal at the 1960 Rome Summer Olympic Games. Robertson earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1960. He was selected by the Cincinnati Royals in the 1960 National Basketball Association Draft. Over his 14 season professional career, Robertson was a 12-time All-Star, 1964 Most Valuable Player, and the only player in NBA history to average double figures in points scored, rebounds, and assists in an entire season. Robertson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980 and was voted one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996. The College Player of the Year Award was renamed the Oscar Robinson Trophy in 1998 and he was an inaugural inductee into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. As President of the NBA Players Association, Robertson filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NBA in 1970 which led to extensive reforms of the league's free agency and draft rules and resulted in higher salaries for the players. Robertson published his autobiography "The Big O" in 2003. A nine-foot statue of Robertson was unveiled on the campus of the University of Cincinnati in 1994 and he received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from the university for his philanthropic and entrepreneurial accomplishments in 2007. Robinson was inducted into the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Hall of Fame in 2009. He is chief executive officer of five companies, including a chemical company, and The Oscar and Yvonne Robertson Scholarship Fund provides three scholarships annually at the University of Cincinnati. 

November 24, 1943 Doris "Dorie" Miller, Navy Cross recipient, died while serving on the USS Liscome Bay which was hit by a Japanese torpedo and sank. Miller was born October 12, 1919 in Waco, Texas. He enlisted in the United States Navy in 1939. On December 7, 1941, Miller was serving as a cook on the USS West Virginia in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked by the Japanese. Although he had no anti-aircraft gun training, Miller took control of one and fired until the gun ran out of ammunition. He was awarded the Navy Cross, the first African American to receive it, for his extraordinary courage in battle May 27, 1942. The Navy Cross is the highest decoration bestowed by the Department of the Navy. The USS Miller was commissioned in his honor June 30, 1973. There are many schools, streets, and parks named in his honor around the country. His biography, "A Man Named Doris," was published in 2003. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2010. 

November 24, 1943 David Bing, hall of fame basketball player and past Mayor of the City of Detroit, was born in Washington, D. C. Bing attended Syracuse University where he led the basketball team in scoring each of the years he played and was named an All-American in 1966. That same year, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and marketing. He was selected by the Detroit Pistons in the 1966 National Basketball Association Draft and was named Rookie of the Year that season. Over his 12-season professional career, Bing was a seven time All-Star and was selected for the 1977 J. Walter Kennedy Award for "outstanding service and dedication to the community." Bing was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990 and was voted one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996. He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. Bing opened Bing Steel with four employees in 1980 and the company was turning a profit by 1984 and he was awarded the National Minority Small Business Person of the Year Award by President Ronald W. Reagan. Bing received the Schick Achievement Award in 1990 for his work after his NBA career. Bing sold the company prior to being elected interim Mayor of Detroit, Michigan in a special election in May, 2009 and was elected to a full term in November of that year. He did not run for re-election in 2013. His biography, "Dave Bing: A Life of Challenge," was published in 2012. 

November 24, 1968 Gregory Pardlo, Pulitzer Prize winning poet and educator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pardlo earned this Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Rutgers University in 1999 and his Master of Fine Arts degree from New York University in 2001. His first volume of poems, "Totem" (2007), won the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize. His poem "Written by Himself" was included in the 2010 Best American Poetry anthology and "Wishing Well" was included in the anthology for 2014. His volume "Digest" won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Pardlo has taught at a number of institutions, including George Washington University, John Jay College, and New York University. He is also associate editor for the literary journal "Callaloo." 

November 24, 1969 Webster Anderson received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest military decoration, from President Richard M. Nixon. Anderson was born July 15, 1933 in Winnsboro, South Carolina. He joined the United States Army in 1953 and served during the Korean War. By October 15, 1967, he was serving as a staff sergeant in Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. On that day, his actions earned him the medal. His citation partially reads, "During the early morning hours Battery A's defensive position was attacked by a determined North Vietnamese Army Infantry unit supported by heavy mortar, recoilless rifle, rocket propelled grenade and automatic weapon fire. The initial onslaught breached the battery defensive perimeter. Sfc. Anderson, with complete disregard for his personal safety, mounted the exposed parapet of his howitzer position and became the mainstay of the defense of the battery position. Sfc. Anderson directed devastating direct howitzer fire on the assaulting enemy while providing rifle and grenade defensive fire against enemy soldiers attempting to overrun his gun section position. While protecting his crew and directing their fire against the enemy from his exposed position, 2 enemy grenades exploded at his feet knocking him down and severely wounding him in the legs. Despite the excruciating pain and though not able to stand, Sfc. Anderson valorously propped himself on the parapet and continued to direct howitzer fire upon the closing enemy and to encourage his men to fight on. Seeing an enemy grenade land within the gun pit near a wounded member of his crew, Sfc. Anderson heedless of his own safety, seized the grenade and attempted to throw it over the parapet to save his men. As the grenade was thrown from the position it exploded and Sfc. Anderson was again grievously wounded. Although only partially conscious and severely wounded, Sfc. Anderson refused medical evacuation and continued to encourage his men in the defense of the position. Sfc. Anderson by his inspirational leadership, professionalism, devotion to duty and complete disregard for his welfare was able to maintain the defense of his section position and to defeat a determined enemy attack. " Despite losing both of his legs and part of an arm, Anderson survived his wounds and retired from the army. Anderson died August 30, 2003. 

November 24, 1974 Raymond Pace Alexander, lawyer, judge and civil rights leader, died. Alexander was born October 19, 1898 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He earned his bachelor's degree, with honors, as the first Black graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business in 1920. He earned his Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School in 1923. He and his wife, Sadie Tanner Mossell, established the premier Black law firm in Philadelphia. Alexander played a leading role in ending de jure segregation in Philadelphia public schools in the 1930s and was instrumental in the enactment of the 1935 Pennsylvania Civil Rights Bill. He also served as president of the National Bar Association from 1933 to 1935. He served on the Philadelphia City Council from 1951 to 1958 and was appointed to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in 1959, the first African American to serve in that position. Alexander served on the court until his death. 

November 24, 1985 Joseph Vernon "Big Joe" Turner, hall of fame blues singer, died. Turner was born May 18, 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri. He began working in Kansas City nightclubs at 14. His career stretched from the barrooms of Kansas City in the 1920s to the European music festivals of the 1980s. During that time he made many records, including "Chain of Love" (1951), "Honey Hush" (1953), "Flip Flop and Fly" (1955), and "Corrine, Corrina" (1956), each of which sold more than a million copies. His recording of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" (1954) is ranked number 126 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998 as a recording of "lasting qualitative or historical significance." Turner was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1983 and posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. 

November 24, 1993 Albert Collins, hall of fame electric guitarist and singer, died. Collins was born October 1, 1932 in Leona, Texas but raised in Houston, Texas. He started playing the guitar at an early age and formed his own band at 18. He had established a local reputation as a guitarist of note by the mid-1950s. Collins recorded his debut single, "The Freeze," in 1958 and his debut album, "The Cool Sounds of Albert Collins," was released in 1965. Other albums by Collins include "There's Gotta Be A Change" (1971), "Don't Lose Your Cool" (1983), which won the W. C. Handy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album, and "Cold Snap" (1986), which received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album. His last album, "Live 92/93," was nominated for the 1996 Grammy Award for Best Blues Contemporary Album. Collins influenced a number of guitar players, including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Cray, and Jimmy Hendrix. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1986. 

November 24, 2009 Hale Smith, composer, pianist, arranger and educator, died. Smith was born June 29, 1925 in Cleveland, Ohio. He began studying the piano at seven and by high school was playing jazz piano and composing. Following two years of military service, he earned his Bachelor of Music degree in 1950 and his Master of Music degree in 1952 from the Cleveland Institute of Music. His opera "Blood Wedding" premiered in 1953. Smith taught at C. W. Post College from 1958 to 1970 and at the University of Connecticut from 1970 to 1984. He influenced many musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie, Ahmad Jamal, Abby Lincoln, and Jessye Norman. His honors include the first composition prize of BMI Student Composer Awards in 1952, the Cleveland Arts Prize in 1973, and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1988. 

November 24, 2014 Alvin Ailey, Jr. was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama. Ailey was born January 5, 1931 in Rogers, Texas. He did not become serious about dance until he was 18. He joined the Lester Horton Dance Company in 1953 and when Horton died later that year, Ailey assumed the role of artistic director. He formed the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958 and over the years created 79 works for his dancers, including "Blues Suite" (1958), "Revelations" (1960), "The River" (1970), and "Cry" (1971). Ailey was awarded the 1976 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal and received Kennedy Center Honors in 1988. Ailey died December 1, 1989. He was posthumously inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 1992 and the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2004. His biography, "Alvin Ailey: A Life in Dance," was published in 1998. 

November 24, 2014 James Earl Chaney was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama. Chaney was born May 30, 1943 in Meridian, Mississippi. He attended a segregated high school and was suspended for wearing a NAACP patch in support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. After graduating from high school, he joined the Negro plasterer's union as an apprentice. Chaney participated in Freedom Rides from Tennessee to Greenville, Mississippi and from Greenville to Meridian in 1962. He joined the Congress of Racial Equality in 1963 and began to organize voter education classes and serve as a guide for out of town CORE workers. Chaney, along with Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, was arrested June 21, 1964 while investigating the burning of a local church. They were released that evening but were stopped by two carloads of Ku Klux Klan members and killed. Their bodies were buried and not discovered for 44 days. The organizer of the attack was not convicted until 2005 and is serving a 60 year sentence. The James Earl Chaney Foundation was established in 1998 to advance and promote achievements in the areas of human and civil rights and voter registration. 

November 24, 2014 Charles Sifford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama. Sifford was born June 2, 1922 in Charlotte, North Carolina. He began work as a caddy at 13 and later competed in golf tournaments organized for Black golfers. He attempted to qualify for the Phoenix Open in 1952 and was subject to threats and racial abuse. He won the 1957 Long Beach Open but it was not an official Professional Golfers Association of America event. He became a member of the PGA tour in 1961 and went on to win two official PGA events. He also won the 1975 PGA Seniors' Championship. Sifford was the first African American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004 and received the Old Tom Morris Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of American, their highest honor, in 2007. The Northern Trust Open created the Charlie Sifford Exemption in 2009 for a player who represents the advancement of diversity in golf. Revolution Golf Course in Charlotte was renamed Charlie Sifford Golf Course in 2011. Sifford died February 3, 2015. His autobiography, "Just Let Me Play," was published in 1992. 

November 24, 2014 Stevie Wonder was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama. Wonder was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins May 13, 1950 in Saginaw, Michigan. He was blind at birth. Wonder began playing musical instruments at an early age and was signed by Motown Records in 1961 as Little Stevie Wonder. He released his debut record, "I Call It Pretty Music, But the Old People Call It the Blues," in 1961 but his first big hit was the 1963 release "Fingertips (pt.2)." Over his career, Wonder has sold more than 100 million albums, recorded more than 30 top ten hits, and won 26 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996. He also won the 1984 Academy Award for Best Original Song for "I Just Called to Say I Love You." His most recent album, "A Time to Love," was released in 2005. Several of his recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of "lasting qualitative or historical significance," including the albums "Innervisions" (1973) in 1999, "Talking Book" (1972) in 1999, "Songs in the Key of Life" (1976) in 2002, and "For Once in My Life" (1968) in 2009. Wonder was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. He received the 1999 Polar Music Prize for "Significant achievements in music" and Kennedy Center Honors in 1999. He received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. Wonder was the second recipient of the Library of Congress' Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2009 and was named a Messenger of Peace by the United Nations. He was awarded the Commander of the Arts and Letters by the French government in 2010. Wonder is also noted for his work as an activist for political causes, including his successful 1980 campaign to make Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday a national holiday in the United States. "Signed, Sealed and Delivered: The Soulful Journey of Stevie Wonder" was published in 2010.

Bessie Virginia Blount

​Forensic scientist, inventor, physical therapist. 

David Bing

Hall of fame basketball player and former mayor of the City of Detroit.

Frankie Muse Freeman

​Hall of fame civil rights attorney. 

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